Maria Lewis on why The Matrix remains brave and bold
First released in 1999 and followed up with sequels in 2003 and 2021, The Matrix is one of the most popular, and most polarising, film franchises ever made. Maria Lewis tells us why the opportunity to interview Matrix screenwriters David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon was one of her ‘WTF’ moments.
We’re in the middle of a reboot renaissance, from Scream (5) to Top Gun: Maverick. As a screenwriter and film buff, why do you think this is?
Put simply: risk! Big studios are so risk averse when it comes to making films over a certain budgetary threshold – and the margins for success theatrically are so much smaller – so investing in pre-existing IP (intellectual property) where the audience is already familiar with the world and the characters and the stakes makes for a much less risky business proposition. It’s happening across television too, films are getting rebooted as longer form television properties where you have the opportunity to bring in OG viewers and fans, while also ensnaring a new audience potentially from a new generation.
Released in 1999, The Matrix spoke to our rapidly growing advancements in, and fear of, technology amongst the frenzy of Y2K. How does the latest installment speak to our current social and technological landscape?
The Matrix Resurrections is one of the boldest examples of subtext rapidly becoming text that I can think of. I mean, less on the technology front and more on the trends of storytelling front as they have a whole sequence in the film where the characters discuss how to reboot The Matrix as a pop culture property which is fascinating. And brave! When Christina Ricci makes a cameo as a developmental exec who says the words ‘Warner Brothers’ in the film I gasped in the theatre and genuinely couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But also, the course correcting of leaving the themes of The Matrix open for interpretation. We’ve seen how the ‘red pill’ idea has been weaponised by the right and MRAs, so the film felt like a very clear and definitive way for the Wachowski sisters – Lana in particular – to reclaim her narrative and say: ‘this is my world, my story, and my characters, fuck your agenda and interpretations!’
What is The Matrix’s legacy from a pop culture perspective?
Depends on who you are and what your individual baggage is, honestly. For me, The Matrix and Blade ushered in this era of slick science-fiction blockbusters that had diverse casts top to bottom. Like, not just in your leads but in your supporting casts and extras: The Matrix (in part because of it being shot in Sydney) had so many Pasifika faces, and it was the first time I had seen that in a film of that scale (along with the Star Wars prequels in that same period). There’s a direct line to be drawn between The Matrix and diverse blockbuster ensembles like The Fast and the Furious just a few years later. Yet also, the aesthetic – the leather, the vinyl, the tiny sunglasses, the boots – defined that Y2K fashion era on the streets but also on the screen. The X-Men eschewed their comic book accurate costumes to have everyone looking like extras from The Matrix, but also the style of action and deployment of slow-motion spawned a legion of imitators in big (Equilibrium) and small (Charlie’s Angels) ways.
What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming conversation with the screenwriting duo behind The Matrix Resurrections, authors Aleksandar Hemon and David Mitchell?
Like, literally EVERYTHING! Honest to fuck, getting to speak with either Aleksandar or David – let alone both at the same time – is one of those big pinch yourself moments. They have always been artistic heroes for me, not just because of their collective bodies of work as novelists but because of their ability to work across form (aspirational, truly). And they’re personal heroes because they’re not assholes. I think there’s this belief (that’s very gendered, sure, but true) that the only way to make great art is to be a dickhead and as long as the creation is excellent, then it’s worth the fractured lives you leave behind. I’ve long believed that’s not true, but hearing Aleksandar and David talk about their collective of creatives and the process of The Pit reaffirms that you can make great art, with great people, on a huge scale and still have a soul.
You write books, screenplays and make podcasts (among many other things!). What’s your advice for people who are considering working across different mediums?
Curiosity, honestly. I just finished directing my first project – The House That Hungers – adapted from a short story of mine, which is something I never thought I’d do and didn’t have ambitions towards, but was asked to by the production company and thought ‘fuck it, why not?’ I was curious about different ways to tell a story that I knew inside and out with tools that I hadn’t used before. It’s the same with any story, really: I’m not form specific. At its bare bones, what is the story I’m trying to tell and why? The medium floats to the surface during that process usually. Women get punished for being multifaceted all the time; people are desperate to put you in a box as just a novelist or just a journalist or just a screenwriter or just a whatever, but fuck it – I’d rather stay curious and hungry about the work and have a breadth of skillsets.
Lastly, what are your latest TV and film recommendations?
Our Flag Means Death has really wooed my spirit at the moment. It has heart, humour, and heroics while also managing to fuck off this idea of minorities not having a place in period stories. The new season of Reservation Dogs is dropping in a few months, so I have been revisiting that and revisiting my obsession with it. Paulina Alexis is star. From a film perspective, I thought Mimi Cave’s Fresh (streaming on Disney+) was pretty extraordinary and an exciting entry into the feminist horror canon.
Maria Lewis’ interview with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon will stream from Monday, 30 May to Friday, 10 June 2022.